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Hungary Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Two soldiers, Esztergom, 1918

THE HUNGARIAN PEOPLE'S ARMY (HPA) of the late 1980s comprised ground and air forces under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The ground forces accounted for more than 77 percent of the total strength of the HPA, which in 1989 numbered slightly less than 100,000 troops. The armed forces that constituted the HPA were committed by treaty to the Soviet-East European alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. Another military force, the Border Guard, which patrolled the country's frontiers, was supervised by the Ministry of Interior, as were the National Police and the Security Police. Hungary had no uniformed state security police. The Workers' Guard, a part-time force similar to a national guard was an arm of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. The HPA and the Border Guard obtained manpower through a system of universal male conscription; service in the other organizations was voluntary. A small number of women also served in the armed forces in auxiliary roles but were not subject to conscription.

Political changes in Hungary and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s promised drastic changes in the HPA's relationship to the party and to the Warsaw Pact. Reformers proposed removing the national security forces from tight party control to reduce the likelihood that they would be used for domestic political coercion. The lessening of tensions in Europe had allowed the financially strapped Hungarian government to severely cut its military budget without fearing domestic or international reprisal. Both Soviet and Hungarian officials spoke cautiously of the possibility of a politically and militarily neutral Hungary. In 1989 the Soviet Union had begun withdrawing a small portion of its 65,000 troops stationed in Hungary. Ironically, by the late 1980s many Hungarians viewed this withdrawal with dismay because they had begun to see the Soviet forces in their country as protection against an increasingly militant Romania.

Political liberalization also encouraged changes in the criminal justice system. Regime leaders promised to depoliticize the administration of justice and the police, although as of 1989 the apparatus of repression remained intact. However, harsh measures against dissent and public demonstrations, which had been taken as late as 1986, had stopped by 1989.

Data as of September 1989